Pop Shots: Billy, Marx & Olivia

Billy Joel’s Storm Front (1989) is an underappreciated collection of ten songs that showcase some of his most interesting work. With rich rock-n-roll in piano, guitar, and horns, and of course his robust vocals, Billy Joel bursts with an angry and buoyant nostalgic anthem, “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” which, in retrospect, traces America’s decline. He sails into the fisherman’s “Downeaster “Alexa”, he goes to extremes, observes the fall of Communist Russia in “Leningrad”, and he wraps with a poignant acknowledgement of reality in “And So It Goes.”

One of Storm Front’s background singers created an album of his own at the turn of the century which is itself an excellent piece of pop music. Though it is a bit too polished, a crisp production of country and rock is on display in Days of Avalon by Richard Marx of Highland Park, Illinois. These 12 mostly romantic tunes cover a range of emotions—always with the talented Marx’s sincerity in top form.

His sappy 2000 song with Olivia Newton-John (ONJ), “Never Far Away,” is part of Olivia’s 2008 duets CD, Olivia Newton-John & Friends: A Celebration in Song. I highly recommend this album for anyone battling cancer or any of life’s difficulties. From the opening anthem, “Right Here with You” to the acoustic guitar-driven last track, Belinda Emmett’s (1974-2006) “Beautiful Thing,” this is one of ONJ’s best recent efforts. The powerful motivational song, “Courageous,” is the perfect jolt for these lousy times. But each old and new song, featuring pairings with Keith Urban, Jann Arden and one of modern pop music’s best songwriters, longtime ONJ producer John Farrar (“You’re the One That I Want”) offer melodic shots of optimism fueled by a positive sense of life and the type of encouragement that only comes from a true friend.

Book Marks: Gifts for Dads

With Father’s Day coming up on June 21, those in the market for a Father’s Day gift might get some ideas from my 2003 newspaper article about books for dads. Among the titles is an old favorite about a controversial Supreme Court nomination, Advise and Consent by Allen Drury, one of the most gripping and stimulating novels I have ever read. I still recommend these books as gifts (links to Amazon.com included; I make a small amount of money if you buy one through Amazon.com). I am currently reading new biographies and non-fiction books; I may write about them.

Screen Shots: ‘The Hangover’, ‘Land of the Lost’

It will probably make tons of money, and be highly popular in today’s tasteless culture, which is steeped in South Park, The Simpsons and professional TV cynics who ramble and rant—Stewart, Colbert, Conan, O’Reilly-n-Olbermann—but The Hangover is pure trash. The heavily marketed crude comedy is bound to tickle at some point and that does not mean it is good humor.

The story of four uncivilized males going to Las Vegas for a bachelor party is the same old thing: like the subversively anti-abortion themed Knocked Up, the jaunt is a thinly disguised excuse to trot out traditionalism as man’s highest potential. Find a woman—and this movie is as anti-female as it is anti-male—for birthing babies, conform to society, and fit in with others while suppressing one’s baser instincts. In the meantime, since we’re all louses deep down, go ahead and make jokes about Nazi extermination of Jews, and the physical and sexual abuse of infants and children. Only Justin Bartha (National Treasure) fares well while an unkempt Seth Rogen/Jack Black type deadpans throughout the disgusting affair, which is so repulsive it’s sure to be praised as ingenious. Bradley Cooper plays the same lecherous guttersnipe character he did in He’s Just Not That Into You.

The Hangover is, as its title suggests, a snapshot of man at his lowest—urging us to believe this is the best a man can get. At one point, someone rationalizes the vulgarities with the line that “that’s what guys do.” Maybe, but it is not what men do. This is Beavis and Butthead with a bigger budget—strictly for the glazed over types that do not want to think. Also in that camp, and opening this Friday, Will Ferrell in Land of the Lost, an adaptation of an asinine Saturday morning TV show of the same name (it aired in the 1970s). As with everything Ferrell does, it is anti-conceptual. The absurdist comedy may appear harmlessly goofy on the surface, and the funniest bit is a joke on Cher, but Land of the Lost merely amounts to yet another example of human self-degradation. This weekend, stay away from the movies, and Tivo or Netflix real comedy—anything with Cary Grant, Doris Day, the Marx Brothers, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope, Mae West. At their worst, they put today’s crass cutups to shame.

Comment: the Death of Dr. George Tiller

Police have announced an arrest in yesterday’s murder of Wichita, Kansas, Dr. George Tiller. Apparently, the shooter is an anti-abortion Christian who approved of assassinating abortion doctors (sources: New York Times, Kansas City Star). If true, this is yet another act of religious terrorism in the United States.

According to a 1995 article in the Washington Post, a rundown of recent attacks match the tactics in an Army of God manual that police officers found buried in the yard of the Oregon woman convicted of shooting Dr. Tiller the first time in 1993. The manual states: “Annihilating abortuaries is our purest form of worship” and it gives explicit instructions for home-brewing plastic explosives, fashioning detonators, deactivating alarm systems, and cutting phone, gas and water lines.

From 1983 to 1995, there were 123 cases of arson, 37 bombings in 33 states, with over 1,500 cases of stalking, assault, sabotage and burglary (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and medical clinics). Of the 49 people prosecuted, all expressed anti-abortion views.

At the Women’s Pavilion Clinic in South Bend, Indiana, someone hacked holes in the roof with an ax, shot out the windows and sent repeated death threats to a staff gynecologist. A group called the Lambs of Christ regularly barricaded the doors and blockaded the driveway, despite repeated arrests. According to the Post, on Mother’s Day 1993, “someone connected a hose to the clinic’s outdoor spigot and fed it through the door’s mail slot, flooding the clinic’s entry room. The person or persons then poured in butyric acid, a nearly indelible substance that smells like feces and vomit and becomes more potent in water. The clinic had to shut down for 7 1/2 weeks to get rid of the smell.” The gynecologist told the Post that, after he was shot at as he drove home from work: “If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. I’m realistic enough.”

An anti-abortionist fired 23 shots at the Hillcrest Clinic in Norfolk, Virginia in 1994. The clinic had been damaged by arson ten years earlier and bombed in 1985.

In 1993, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a clinic which does not perform abortions, was attacked by an arsonist.

That same year, a Brooklyn, New York, clinic was targeted with two Molotov cocktails, and a Bakersfield, California, clinic sustained $ 1.4 million in arson damages.

In 1994, Paul D. Hill shot two people to death at a Pensacola, Florida, clinic.

A nurse and clinic director in Little Rock, Arkansas, arrived home to find her neighborhood was papered with fliers calling her a “death camp worker.”

Remember, that information was reported in the Post in 1995. The violent religious crusade against a woman’s right to an abortion is likely to get worse under the religious President Obama, who waffled on abortion in yesterday’s statement on Dr. Tiller’s murder, describing a woman’s right to abortion as a “difficult” issue. The President, a Christian who opposes gay marriage, invited an anti-gay, anti-abortion preacher to speak at his inauguration in January.

For an excellent primer on the legal philosophy of a woman’s right to an abortion, read this examination by The Association for Objective Law (TAFOL) which specifically addresses the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. In the meantime, it remains unknown whether Obama’s Catholic Supreme Court nominee, self-described “latina” Sonia Sotomayor, supports the right to abortion.

A Voice of Opposition to Sonia Sotomayor

With a link to the text of her controversial speech, lawyer Tom Bowden of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights (ARC) provides the best argument against approving Judge Sonia Sotomayor as a member of the Supreme Court. His thesis, presented in a post to ARC’s blog, is that Judge Sotomayor is unqualified to serve on the Supreme Court because she rejects the concept of objectivity.

I agree with him. Since President Obama nominated Sotomayor—and it is still early in the Congressional nomination process—the press has fawned over her, repeatedly citing her race and gender, as MSNBC’s Chris Matthews disparagingly pointed out on Hardball. With populists like Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly, who fell over himself praising Obama’s nomination as a political master stroke and wrongly stating that her nomination is a done deal—a Supreme Court nomination is never a done deal, at least not for several weeks, if at all—it’s left to those new intellectuals like Mr. Bowden to argue against the Obama administration’s nominee on principle. His excellent post should be widely distributed.